October 24 , 2003  
Volume 97, Issue 31  

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Seven decades worth of Urquhart's artwork

Ken Green
Gazette Writer

Exhibit: Power of Invention: Drawings from Seven Decades
Artist: Tony Urquhart
Location: Museum London

Gazette file photo
THAT’S A LOT OF PEOPLE, DOING A LOT OF... STUFF. The art of Urquhart is currently on display at Museum London.

For those who imagine becoming an accomplished artist requires an easel and a pallet of oil-based paint, the exhibit Power of Invention: Drawings from Seven Decades by Tony Urquhart proves otherwise.

Urquhart's works are mainly comprised of black ink on paper, giving the exhibit a cold and colourless feel. Additionally, a large majority of the pieces are on sketchpad-size paper, so a great deal of patience is required in order to view the seven decades worth of work. However, the attention to detail, even on the smaller drafts, is fascinating.

His drawings are a true testament to technicality. In his "Najac" series, for example, all pieces contain the same object: an arboretum filled with hundreds of vines and plants. The trick is that each installment has a different perspective, which speaks highly of Urquhart's patience; to draw one of these would be a task in itself, but he has managed to create eight of them within the span of one year.

The "Najac" series, like many others, juxtaposes nature with cages to comment on man's attempt to contain nature. It would appear as though Urquhart, however, is stating that man's efforts cannot succeed. In the colourful "Tree and Ladder," for instance, the ladder cannot reach the top of the tree; an obvious comment on man's inability to reach the apex of nature.

He also conveys the idea of nature in decay. This is shown quite clearly in the work "Reclining Dog," which depicts an outstretched, dead dog whose lower half fades - or decays - into the canvas. This was probably the most shocking, though quite subtle, piece in the exhibit.

Curator Terrence Heath arranged the exhibit in chronological order so shifts in themes can be seen. A colour photocopy of Urquhart's "Idea Book" is provided to give the viewer insight into the creative process of an artist. Random pages of notes, partial sketches and colour photographs of everyday objects form the bulk of the book, but even a quick flip provides an overwhelming sense of how difficult it must be to organize these thoughts into single object drawings.

Overall, his work is both simplistic and complex. It's simplistic because often there is only one object with an empty, pale background; but on close inspection the object is drawn to the finest detail, with many fine and concise strokes. It is clearly, as Heath states, a "major work in draughtsmanship in Canada," but not for the casual audience of art. For those looking for large, colourful, Jackson Pollock-like paintings, Power of Invention will not be very satisfying.

Power of Invention will be on display at the Ivey North and Centre Galleries in Museum London until Nov. 8.



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